Why is it taking so long to count US ballots?
The balance of power in the US Congress after Tuesday’s midterm elections is still up in the air, with several key races yet to be called about 48 hours after many polling places closed.
A multi-day wait for cliffhanger-style results is far from unusual in the United States, where the media are generally the first to call elections, based on votes tabulated by county clerks and other officials, as well as statistical analyses.
While long delays may annoy American voters and raise questions from curious international observers, there are several reasons why the process may drag on.
– Patchwork Rules –
For starters, US elections are largely decentralized, with each of the 50 states having their own rules.
Some Americans vote with machines, others with paper ballots. Some vote in person, others by mail.
Some vote on election day, others in advance. Many citizens use ballot boxes.
As election officials in several states urged patience with the vote count, Republican US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida made his complaints public.
“If #Florida can count 7.5 million ballots in 5 hours, how can some states count less than 2 million days?” Rubio tweeted on Wednesday.
Ballots, where Americans generally vote for various candidates and initiatives, can take a long time to tally.
With postal voting widely popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, things are taking even longer – ballots can arrive at counting stations days after the election. Ohio and Alaska count those who arrive up to 10 days later.
Complicating matters, in many states election officials are not even allowed to begin counting votes in advance.
The extended time it takes to carry out the process is fueling conspiracy theories, especially after the 2020 election, which President Donald Trump falsely claimed was rigged against him.
That race between Trump and eventual winner Joe Biden was unknown for four days.
– Georgia Nail Snacks –
The southeastern state of Georgia played a special role in 2020, as the balance of the US Senate hung in the state’s runoff election.
This year is proving to be a case of deja vu.
With no candidate clearing the 50 percent threshold Tuesday to prevent a runoff, the two front-runners, Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, are headed for a Dec. 6 runoff.
Organizing elections in a country of around 333 million inhabitants is a logistical challenge in itself.
– Unforeseen hiccups –
The process rarely goes without a few minor hiccups. This year, for example, voting machines in one Arizona county ran into operational problems, disrupting voting.
Some Republicans — including Trump himself — pointed to it as evidence of fraud, a claim that authorities immediately dismissed.
Even without technical incidents, races can simply be extremely close, as several of Tuesday’s elections showed.
Twenty states have laws that require a recount if the margin between candidates is too small.
In one particular case in 2000, the country held its breath for 36 days while an entire election hinged on the delayed results of one state, Florida, while Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore battled for the White House.
At the heart of the civil misunderstanding was a razor-thin vote that prompted a highly contested recount. Ultimately, the battle went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Bush’s favor that December.
In 2008, the race for a US Senate seat in Minnesota resulted in an epic legal battle. The result was finally known some eight months later.
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